Margaret Cho doesn't take long to consider what she'd do with 24 hours wearing John Travolta's face.
"First we would get an exfoliating mask, then a hydrating treatment — but maybe not a massage because he's gotten in trouble with some massage therapists."
It's a flippant question we've asked her, knowing full well it's not the first time Cho has talked of her Face Off co-star. Famously, she spoke about his sexuality on her 2013 Australian tour. But her tone is light and friendly, she's happy to indulge us, and her full answer is one of compassion.
"I know John and I love him. I fear for him because he's unable to be his authentic self. When I talk about him I'm not trying to hurt him, I'm trying to help people understand what a beautiful person he is. He is just a beautiful old queen in the spirit of Lord Byron or Oscar Wilde and no-one will know that side of him unless somebody says so."
The Golden Globes dictator
As much as someone else's sexuality may not seem Cho's call to make, there can be little doubt that to simply say she's outspoken is to misunderstand her. She's a true comedian: it's never wise to be too certain, too soon, if something said is entirely serious or if the joke is on us. Over the phone her tone is wry, affable and light — but she respects the topics she jokes about and often there's a serious point in the detail. Not that Cho would care too much about being misunderstood. After all, that comes with comedic territory. At the beginning of the year she courted apparent controversy at the Golden Globes when she joined Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on stage dressed as a North Korean dictator. Curiously, many of the critics came from England:
"I think in England it's where people begin the whitening process," she says, "Well, that's my joke about it. But, I think it is because white people are now more aware of racism and so become upset about it. Britain seems to be on the front line of PC culture, where it fights for fairness but unfortunately many were not aware that I'm actually from North Korea."
Cho is indeed of mixed North and South Korean descent, though she was born and brought up in San Francisco. So, was part of this British backlash because on these shores we perceive the comedian as American rather than Korean-American — whereas in America people didn't mind the North Korean caricature because Cho is playing on her own heritage?
"I think that's what it is actually," she agrees, and explains in detail how a description such as 'Asian' can be used entirely differently in the states as it would be here, referencing the comparative populations of the entire continent.
Not that any of the criticism has put Cho off this leg of her PsyCHO tour. In particular, she talks of Sunday mornings in London spening time in Dover Street Market, the St. John restaurant in Smithfield and looking for flowers on Columbia Road.
12 Days of Rage
In the lead-up to the release of her new single I Want To Kill My Rapist, Cho began the #12DaysOfRage campaign for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. A look at Cho's Twitter timeline shows how much she has engaged with fellow survivors: “It's been profoundly heartbreaking to witness the amount of people who suffer from abuse and rape. Many have been male. People always think it's a women's issue but that's not true.”
Despite the emotive song title, Cho explains the single is not about revenge or physical violence: “It's about murdering the rapist in your mind so you don't end up killing yourself. It's about purging the experience with cathartic rage. Often, people are afraid of violent speech but this is not necessarily directed at the person, but at the memory we have inside.
"The 'star' of the video is a girl who at six years old, put her molester in prison. She'd been abused from the age of three. She stood on the stand in court, looked him the eye and told him he would go to prison for what he'd done. I think it is healing."
Although, as Cho says, the title and lyrics are about the inner world, it also highlights that conversations about abuse have become more public: "You know what I think really broke this story?" says Cho, "Jimmy Saville. That was such a huge landmark shot. Now the American version is Bill Cosby. Fortunately he's still alive and can be tried, but unfortunately there is only one case he can be prosecuted for. But, there's no statute of limitations on the truth. If we can tell stories and not be ashamed we can stop this from happening."
Though the subject seems a bleak on to discuss, Cho considers comedy can help aid the healing process.
"It's about laughter and sharing. You convene a room of people and you are all sharing something. The subject of this show is very heavy, we're talking about rape and sexual abuse and also about racism, sexism and homophobia — but to find comedy is powerful."
Margaret Cho: PsyCHO plays Leicester Square Theatre, 15-20 Dec, 8.15pm, Tickets: £22.50.